Every September, thousands of new students set out to do what thousands of other students have done before them: chart a course through university life. But it’s difficult to navigate when you have an incomplete map. Under the Academic Advisement initiative, Information Services and Technology (IST) is teaming up with many faculties to equip our students and advisors with the tools they need to find success.
In May 2015, IST and a consortium of faculties led an initiative to implement Academic Advisement, a module within PeopleSoft Campus Solutions that tracks the requirements a student must satisfy in order to graduate.
“When the Academic Advisement module was first introduced in 2004, it wouldn’t work for complex programs,” says Robin Cowan, Faculty of Arts. “But as it developed over the years, and as Augustana started to deploy it, we realized that the module was ready to handle complex programs like those in the Faculty of Arts.”
With Augustana carving the path to Academic Advisement resources online, others could follow. Cowan reached out to IST, and together, they began a collaborative effort with Augustana, Campus Saint-Jean, the Registrar’s Office, and the Faculties of Arts, Science, Education, Physical Education, and Extension. Soon after, IST and the faculties began the arduous task of building and testing requirements to create Academic Advisement Reports, which allow students to use Bear Tracks to check their progress in meeting graduation requirements, rather than meeting with an academic advisor.
That hard work paid off: by April 2016, Education released advising reports for a small group of about 20 students; Campus Saint-Jean followed in November 2016 with advising reports for approximately 650 students. Arts released their advising reports in January 2017 for 4,500 BA students, and in August 2017, Extension released advising reports for 13,200 students. Now, many U of A students can look at their academic progress online through Bear Tracks and get answers to questions like which courses they can take towards their major, what courses they are missing towards their minor, and if they are on track to graduate.
“This probably wouldn’t have been the huge success it was if it was just one faculty pursuing Academic Advisement,” explains Robin Wilson, IST Business Analyst. “They all have the same challenges, and by getting together and agreeing on a solution, it was a huge win for them and the university.”
“It’s been a collaborative effort,” adds Barb Peebles, IST Service Delivery Manager. “The faculties understand the requirements better than IST, and IST understands the backend of the system better, so the marrying of the two was really important. It’s a symbiotic relationship — we really can’t have one without the other.”
Meanwhile, the relief felt by the Faculty of Arts is palpable. Before Academic Advisement, students had only two ways of getting information on their program requirements: keeping track of it themselves in the University Calendar, or submitting a paper Request for Program Check form and waiting for an advisor to check their status. But with hundreds of requests coming into the Faculty of Arts every month, advisors were constantly buried beneath a mountain of paperwork, and students were left waiting for weeks just to hear whether or not they had met a requirement.
Now that Academic Advisement has been implemented, conversations between students and advisors have shifted dramatically. With basic questions answered by Academic Advisement Reports, students now ask more in-depth questions and receive detailed answers. They can get the information they need in a matter of seconds rather than weeks, and they can easily generate What If Reports: advisement reports for programs the student might be interested in transferring to or for majors and minors the student might be interested in declaring.
At the same time, staff have much freer schedules to tackle other tasks. Without Request for Program Check forms coming in, staff can focus on strategic work, help students proactively instead of reactively, and advance the faculty even further.
“This was something we needed to save our staff and help our students,” says Cowan. “The response to Academic Advisement has been overwhelmingly positive so far, and it has made a huge difference in the Faculty of Arts.”
Launching Academic Advisement in the Faculty of Arts marks a huge victory, and the program is underway in other faculties. The Faculty of Science plans to implement advisement reports for their BSc students in the near future, while Education continues to work on their Elementary and Secondary Education requirements. Meanwhile, the Faculty of Arts has implemented Academic Advisement for their BA, BA Criminology, Bachelor of Fine Arts, and Bachelor of Design students, with plans to roll out advisement reports for their Music, Drama, and certificate students soon.
“IST is still helping to steer the ship a bit,” Peebles says. “We’re trying to organize the next round of faculties to start Academic Advisement, continue the momentum, and get more faculties involved in releasing this to students. Academic Advisement is a huge service to students, and once it’s implemented, it will be a huge relief for the faculties and the advisors.”